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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • NYT: Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 7th, 2008

    Hi Blog. Ironic article, given many eikaiwa won’t hire Subcontinental Indians because they don’t look the part or speak “gaijin” English… Then again, as the author admits, the following is just one of those fads, and fads fade. And when I sent this to an education list I’m a member of, they doubted many of the claims made in the article–such as the one-page essay in English at age five–as mere boosterism. And most importantly, what are the entry fees? Debito in Sapporo


    Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools
    New York Times January 2, 2008
    Courtesy of The Club

    MITAKA, Japan — Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence these days about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. But even in this fad-obsessed nation, one result was never expected: a growing craze for Indian education.

    Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

    Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan.

    And Japan’s few Indian international schools are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families.

    At the Little Angels English Academy & International Kindergarten, the textbooks are from India, most of the teachers are South Asian, and classroom posters depict animals out of Indian tales. The kindergarten students even color maps of India in the green and saffron of its flag.

    Little Angels is located in this Tokyo suburb, where only one of its 45 students is Indian. Most are Japanese.

    Viewing another Asian country as a model in education, or almost anything else, would have been unheard-of just a few years ago, say education experts and historians.

    Much of Japan has long looked down on the rest of Asia, priding itself on being the region’s most advanced nation. Indeed, Japan has dominated the continent for more than a century, first as an imperial power and more recently as the first Asian economy to achieve Western levels of economic development.

    But in the last few years, Japan has grown increasingly insecure, gripped by fear that it is being overshadowed by India and China, which are rapidly gaining in economic weight and sophistication. The government here has tried to preserve Japan’s technological lead and strengthen its military. But the Japanese have been forced to shed their traditional indifference to the region.

    Grudgingly, Japan is starting to respect its neighbors.

    “Until now, Japanese saw China and India as backwards and poor,” said Yoshinori Murai, a professor of Asian cultures at Sophia University in Tokyo. “As Japan loses confidence in itself, its attitudes toward Asia are changing. It has started seeing India and China as nations with something to offer.”

    Last month, a national cry of alarm greeted the announcement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that in a survey of math skills, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to 10th place, behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. From second in science in 2000, Japan dropped to sixth place.

    While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. In part, this reflects China’s image in Japan as a cheap manufacturer and technological imitator. But India’s success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy.

    Most annoying for many Japanese is that the aspects of Indian education they now praise are similar to those that once made Japan famous for its work ethic and discipline: learning more at an earlier age, an emphasis on memorization and cramming, and a focus on the basics, particularly in math and science.

    India’s more demanding education standards are apparent at the Little Angels Kindergarten, and are its main selling point. Its 2-year-old pupils are taught to count to 20, 3-year-olds are introduced to computers, and 5-year-olds learn to multiply, solve math word problems and write one-page essays in English, tasks most Japanese schools do not teach until at least second grade.

    Indeed, Japan’s anxieties about its declining competitiveness echo the angst of another nation two decades ago, when Japan was the economic upstart.

    “Japan’s interest in learning from Indian education is a lot like America’s interest in learning from Japanese education,” said Kaoru Okamoto, a professor specializing in education policy at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

    As with many new things here, the interest in Indian-style education quickly became a fad.

    Indian education is a frequent topic in forums like talk shows. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers. Even Japan’s conservative education ministry has begun discussing Indian methods, said Jun Takai of the ministry’s international affairs division.

    Eager parents try to send their children to Japan’s roughly half dozen Indian schools, hoping for an edge on the competitive college entrance exams.

    In Tokyo, the two largest Indian schools, which teach kindergarten through junior high, mainly to Indian expatriates, received a sudden increase in inquiries from Japanese parents starting last year.

    The Global Indian International School says that 20 of its some 200 students are now Japanese, with demand so high from Indian and Japanese parents that it is building a second campus in the neighboring city of Yokohama.

    The other, the India International School in Japan, just expanded to 170 students last year, including 10 Japanese. It already has plans to expand again.

    Japanese parents have expressed “very, very high interest” in Indian schools, said Nirmal Jain, principal of the India International School.

    The boom has had the side effect of making many Japanese a little more tolerant toward other Asians.

    The founder of the Little Angels school, Jeevarani Angelina — a former oil company executive from Chennai, India, who accompanied her husband, Saraph Chandar Rao Sanku, to Japan in 1990 — said she initially had difficulty persuading landlords to rent space to an Indian woman to start a school. But now, the fact that she and three of her four full-time teachers are non-Japanese Asians is a selling point.

    “When I started, it was a first to have an English-language school taught by Asians, not Caucasians,” she said, referring to the long presence here of American and European international schools.

    Unlike other Indian schools, Ms. Angelina said, Little Angels was intended primarily for Japanese children, to meet the need she had found when she sent her sons to Japanese kindergarten.

    “I was lucky because I started when the Indian-education boom started,” said Ms. Angelina, 50, who goes by the name Rani Sanku here because it is easier for Japanese to pronounce. (Sanku is her husband’s family name.)

    Ms. Angelina has adapted the curriculum to Japan with more group activities, less memorization and no Indian history. Encouraged by the kindergarten’s success, she said, she plans to open an Indian-style elementary school this year.

    Parents are enthusiastic about the school’s rigorous standards.

    “My son’s level is higher than those of other Japanese children the same age,” said Eiko Kikutake, whose son Hayato, 5, attends Little Angels. “Indian education is really amazing! This wouldn’t have been possible at a Japanese kindergarten.”

    8 Responses to “NYT: Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools”

    1. 1TruthTeller Says:

      Excellent topic, and most timely. As a Caucasian, I have had, since as long as I can remember, always been treated in hospitals in the UK and later Canada, by excellent doctors from the Indian subcontinent, including Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was then), and Pakistan. My parents and I never batted an eyelid. Since then I have many professional and personal friends from these ethnic groups who are almost all doctors, engineers or successful entrepreneurs. That these people of colour were successful was something that I always viewed matter-of-factly and it became the norm.

      Given the very visible display of Japan’s growing lack of cockiness in the 21st century world, it must really stick in the craw of the ruling class here that (gasp!) this country is now in serious decline. I would hope, and maybe in vain, that Japan could find some authentic humanity in realizing that all people are one, regardless of colour. I fear that this fad about Indian educational standards is a grasping at straws by a drowning people. And let’s also ask, is Japan’s school system real “education”, or just training? And for what end? Producing more order-following same-uniformed factory workers? The innovation that has followed India’s educational improvements probably wouldn’t be allowed here. Could this be another case of Japan just stealing ideas to then tweak to its own purposes? The nail that sticks up just has to be hammered down! Look at at Horie, Son Masayoshi and fund manager Murakami. Let’s not let the people get too uppity, now!

    2. feitclub Says:

      Considering that I work in elementary schools and I don’t know a single sixth grader who can write a one-page essay in English, I found that claim to be very surprising as well. And while my Japanese might not be that great, I feel like I would have noticed books praising Indians “filling” the bookstores. Is this only in Tokyo, perhaps, and the journalist once again assumed that Tokyo represents the whole country?

    3. Ke5in Says:

      I also work in the elementary school system and am being increasingly more and more stunned at the lack of intellectual challenge and stimulation for students and the lowered expectations of their abilities and potential for learning! The majority of teachers want to spoon-feed the students and actively remove any opportunities for the students to think creatively and make decisions for themselves, with the expected results. There is no desire to challenge the students or introduce them to new ideas and situations to stimulate learning but rather it is made sure that everything is easily achievable and non-threatening, with no chance for failure; only rehashing what they already know over and over.
      It appears that without the “juku” system, the educational development of the children in this country would be almost non-existent …!

    4. mmays Says:

      The Times often (always?) presents Japanese fads as a wave of change.

    5. zero abrera Says:

      what’s baffling me is that mainstream japan (i.e. the fad-crazy) does not really need to search for methods “unique” to the Indian educational system. I for one don’t think that imitating these Indian techniques will really correct the downward trend of the yamato educational system. To quote:

      “Most annoying for many Japanese is that the aspects of Indian education they now praise are similar to those that once made Japan famous for its work ethic and discipline: learning more at an earlier age, an emphasis on memorization and cramming, and a focus on the basics, particularly in math and science.”

      This clearly suggests that there is something wrong with the entire educational system, and not just in relation to teaching methods. And by entire system, I am speaking of not only the curriculum (which i think the kokumin is working on), but also of the proper enforcement of school guidelines, decorum, and certainly the most salient factor of them all: the teacher-student dynamics (i quote several acquaintances saying that to pass high school, attending, er, being present in classes will suffice).

      P.S. the more i read about the current news and events in Nippon (as a proud Japanese would say it), the more i think that all these are perhaps pointing to something beyond xenophobia – ETHNOCENTRICISM; the Yamato-ness. and no wonder some people go to the extent of comparing today’s Japan to the ubermensch movement back in WWII.

    6. Matt Dioguardi Says:

      Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan.

      This is interesting in a way that has nothing to do with India. I’m guessing that educational programs that are highly centralized at a national level focus on being internationally competitive. The result is a focus on things that are *easily* testable, such as math and vocabulary retention.

      When education is localized it tends to be more moral. This troubles some people, because they worry about children being inoculated with an incorrect interpretation of the world. But at least in that case, people learn a viewpoint and how to argue and defend it. (Even if it’s incorrect.) Usually that viewpoint stands at odd with centralized authority. This is almost absent in Japan now, but you can still see it in America.

      So if the article is correct, parents have two concerns:
      1. Children competing internationally.
      2. Children memorizing their multiplication tables.

      Sounds like a recipe for an empty mind, if you ask me.

      It’s a complete pipe dream, I know, but I would love to see education much less centralized in Japan. Eventually, this would lead to more and more diversity.

    7. zero abrera Says:

      “When education is localized it tends to be more moral. This troubles some people, because they worry about children being inoculated with an incorrect interpretation of the world. But at least in that case, people learn a viewpoint and how to argue and defend it.” (and not just that, learn from the others’ viewpoints for a better/richer outlook on things)

      Silence is golden; a nail that sticks out gets hammered down (especially if it’s a teeny weeny one); hon’ne versus tate’mae; shoganee~; homogeneity. sounds like a paradigm shift is needed to make that happen

    8. John k Says:

      I was invited last year to lecture at Osaka Uni. Since my field of expertise is rare and also very little practical information exists in Japan, despite the “theory” side being taught here. However, I was at pains to get the student to engage in my lectures…they all remained motionless. No matter how many times I asked for anyone to ask a question or enquire. Eventually I got 2 students to ask questions…to enquire, to engage with their minds, rather than just accepting what I was telling them to explore concepts and their own understanding….sadly those 2 students were not Japanese.

      I asked the other Prof’s at the Uni, is this normal, no one asking questions etc…and they said yes…students don’t ask questions, they just get the notes and read them later and at their own pace and leisure. Discipline is given higher priority and hence students are not ‘allowed’ to question…since this also implies questioning their teacher’s knowledge.

      This linear thinking I feel is also one of the roots for the social problems as well as economic problems here in Japan. Just go with the flow, don’t question, just accept. And of course once they wake up and smell the roses, if they do, it is too late!

      When my wife and I have children, I won’t want to send them to a school that does not teach them how to be creative, how to think, how to question and how to be assertive. If it means sending them overseas, then so be it. My wife actually suggested this to me. Even though she is Japanese, she has seen the difference in education as she attended the same university I did, where I was taking my PhD.

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